Vettel poised to clinch title with tenth win

2011 Japanese GP pre-race analysis

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Will Vettel run off into the distance again?

The Japanese Grand Prix will begin the way the last race ended: with Sebastian Vettel in the lead and Jenson Button giving chase.

But will Button be able to keep Vettel from his fourth consecutive win?

And can Lewis Hamilton bounce back from a series of poor races to finish on the podium for the first time since his Nurburgring win?

The start

The pole sitter’s advantage has been a controversial in the past at Suzuka. Ayrton Senna complained bitterly when he had to start from pole position on the right-hand side of the track in 1990.

Infamously, he took out Alain Prost at the start of the race after the Ferrari driver, who started second on the grid, beat him to the first corner.

Today pole position is on the left-hand side of the track and the second-placed driver has the disadvantage of starting off-line. With just a 300m run to the first corner, and little braking to be done when they arrive there, the pole sitter has a serious advantage here.

Jenson Button, second on the grid, will have to keep a close eye on his team mate. The third-placed driver has taken second at the start in three of the last four races here.

Button may be the only driver left who can beat Vettel to the championship but don’t expect Hamilton to cut him any slack on that account. Button’s chances of beating Vettel to the title are very remote, and it’s unlikely the team would want to instruct their drivers what order to finish in unless Vettel retires from the race and Hamilton is in a position to hand Button victory. What a scenario that would be.

Keep an eye on the two Ferraris which have made some rapid starts. Particularly Fernando Alonso, who has gained eight places in total on the first laps of the last three races.

Michael Schumacher, eighth on the grid, has done even better. With a net gain of 21 places over the season so far he and Sebastien Buemi (15th) have been the best off the line this year.


Vettel stretched out a commanding lead over Button in Singapore and did the same in Monza, aided by having Alonso and Michael Schumacher between him and the McLarens. Can he do the same here?

Friday practice indicated Red Bull have good long stint performance and tyre life. Button seemed to as well but Hamilton’s lap times dropped off quite quickly.

Button was doubtful about his car’s long-run pace today: “Our Friday long-runs on high-fuel were less than ideal,” he said, “but we’ve seen the form vary significantly between Friday and Sunday, so tomorrow should be very different.”

There is cause for optimism at McLaren: the new Suzuka-spec rear wing appears to have unlocked some more pace from the car. In qualifying, Button was faster than Vettel in the first two sectors of the lap.

Practice made it clear that tyre life is going to be a demanding factor in this race. The growing build-up of rubber on the racing line since then, reducing lap times and increasing cornering speeds, will only add to that.

Enter Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber, the car which has been kindest to its tyres this year. Starting a career-best seventh on the grid for his home event, he has a chance of a great result for the team here.

Starting alongside Kobayashi on the fourth row is Schumacher. He has two set of fresh soft tyres left giving him a slight advantage over the cars in front of him.

Team mate Nico Rosberg, however, faces a long grind from the back of the field. Schumacher started 24th and finished fifth in Spa – what can Rosberg do from 23rd at another of F1’s greatest tracks?

Unless something dramatic happens to Vettel it’s likely he will win the drivers championship in Japan.

But will he cap it with his tenth win of the season? Have your say in the comments.

2011 Japanese Grand Prix

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    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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    42 comments on “Vettel poised to clinch title with tenth win”

    1. I’d bet on JB for the win, even if it’s likely SV will cruise to the win as in 2009 and 2010.

      1. I suppose if he can take the lead he has a fighting chance. If he does not this could become a long race.

      2. If placing a bet, it would be on Vettel keeping the lead, building up a buffer and then pitting to react to Button/Hamilton or whoever is first behind him to take the win.
        Then again, we might see either of the McLarens or Alonso, maybe Massa or who knows Webber or even Kobayashi spoiling this a bit through their strategies and different use of tyres.
        Maybe someting like China, now that would be epic, right?

        1. @BasCB Just a bit of Nurburgring 2011 for me, that’d do. I don’t see SV getting away with it after the green lights!

      3. Is it true Red Bull have set their cars up for the race, and not for quali?
        I’d just be interested to know, as I also heard McLaren had set their car up for quali, compromising on race pace

        1. Looking at the speed traps that is possible. The McLarens seem to be running more downforce. This means they have a greater DRS effect; which benefits them more in qualifying

    2. It’s the race to be best of the rest that’s going to be the real interest from now on, could McLaren dominate the rest of the season, can Webbers season go from bad to worse, how many more incidents between Massa and Hamilton will we see?

    3. Worst case scenario: Vettel screams off, Hamilton takes Button at the start, and a few laps later begin to hold him up enough so that Vettel accumulates that usual 5-10 seconds in the lead.

      Chances are that Button can roar past Hamilton after a few laps, because of DRS and superior straight line speed though, so that’s not that likely a scenario.

    4. I always get annoyed whenever Suzuka 1990 is being brought up, with Senna’s whingeing..he didn’t have any issues with the pole being on the dirty side at Estoril in 1988, where he happily took the lead from the clean 2nd slot..not to mention him nearly pushing Prost head-first into the pit boards..true legend

      1. In this case, Keith was only technical about the dirty side of the track because it is relevant to this race. There’s no judgment about Ayrton’s or Prost’s behavior.


    5. I hope that Massa can stay ahead of Fernando. If he does then he’ll be allowed to pit first instead of waiting for Alonso to come in who is much better than saving his tyres. It was great that he outqualified Alo but, unfortunately, Massa’s on the dirty side so even when he wins he loses :P

      I hope Vettel absolutely dominates. I’d love him to win his second title in style. He’s had a bit of stick this year for not being a “racer” but I think he’s fine with overtaking and if he gets his 3rd win from his 3rd pole at this terrifying, vomit-inducing track then he’s got some of the biggest balls out there to go with his massive number 1 finger sign he does.

      1. I sure hope people give Vettel a run for the money. Button and Hamilton should have a car at their disposal thats able and I sure hope Button can use it.
        I’d also be happy to see Massa have a good race but I’m not sure if I see it in front of Alonso. The spaniard is what I’d call in german a “Beißer” and seems more controlled and decisive in his moves, especially when he wants to get past someone so I see greater chances for a good Ferrari result if Alonso gets past. But if I’m proven wrong I won’t mind.

      2. lol Steph.

        I also hope Vettel takes the title with a win. It will certainly add to the moment.

      3. Hear hear Steph. Hear hear. Dear God it’s weird calling someone other than my wife that

      4. Yeah, Vettel should win here and score a hat-trick and a double. But I wouldn’t mind if Hamilton won either so we can end with the comments about the dark-cloud period Lewis is going through.

      5. Completely agree. Although I hope we’ll see an actual race for the win, I will be rooting for Vettel. He’s driven almost flawlessly this season, and a win at Suzuka for the WDC would be a suiting claim to the inevitable title. But as has been the standard for most races this season so far I’m hoping for another good race – Vettel dominating or not.

        I’ll also be cheering for Kobayashi, I hope his 7th grid position hasn’t come too costly in terms of tyres. Although he’s performed quite well this season in terms of consistency and points, he hasn’t driven the great drive I was hoping from him this season.

        Either way I’m pretty sure tomorrow is going to be a result for the books, can’t wait.

    6. On the one hand, I don’t begrudge Vettel clinching his second title in style, on the other hand, I’m pretty tired of seeing Sebastian on the top step of the podium race after race. Luckily for him, though, my preferences over race outcomes have not had much impact on the actual races.

    7. Trenthamfolk (@)
      8th October 2011, 18:10

      My bets are on Button for the GP win, but I do not doubt that Vettel will come away with the championship… Good luck to the little guy, he is an absolute pleasure to watch and a worthy champ. No-brains Newey (as he was called at school!) must be very proud of Luscious Liz (or is it the other one?) also. I have really enjoyed this season so far, despite Ferrari, and the scrap for the spoils is shaping up to be a corker… Can’t wait!

    8. My question is about how much performance Lewis can get from his set of tyres. He didn’t pushed its full potential in that final lap.

      I hope to see him extracting a little bit more from that healthy set.

      1. Trenthamfolk (@)
        8th October 2011, 18:36

        Hamilton always impresses me… as Senna said, a racing driver who no longer goes for a gap is no loner a racing driver. The little fella is a genius.

        I’m a Button & Webber fan, just for the haters out there…

    9. I really think Hamilton can win here if he sorts out his tyre degradation. If he can conserve and be quick (will be hard) then I think he can get passed Button at the start and hustle with Vettel until the pits-stops, when eventually Hamilton will be first in due to more scrubbed tyres and his driving style. Hope so!!

      1. That’s the whole issue though isn’t it? You’re saying you want to have your cake, and eat it too. Or more to the point; you want to have your tyres; but use them to (for pace).

    10. I really hope Vettel clinches the title with a podium finish – it would be a real shame after his performances this year to retire from the race then win the title sat in his garage if Button doesn’t win…

      Probably not worth worrying about though. I’m sure it’ll be another whitewash.

    11. because of the stupid staggered grid system you can expect to see hamilton in front of button by the first corner , time and again the driver on the dirty side gets overtaken by the car behind him on the clean side

      being on the clean side is enough advantage to reward the pole sitter , let’s go back to side by side like we had years ago

    12. I really hope either lewis or jenson can put some real pressure on seb right off the start. it is true that this year the heavy loaded mclarens have suffered, but always improved a little bit on sundays. no matter what,by this time tomorrow seb will be double world champions

    13. Vettel to do a senna and take out button, at least it’ll make his championship win more interesting

      1. Trenthamfolk (@)
        8th October 2011, 19:33

        He’s done it before… he wasn’t dubbed ‘The Crash Kid’ for nothing! It’s going to be a great race… I hope!!! Horner said strategy could go anywhere between 3 and 5 stops, so lots of variation is possible.. . Get in.

        1. Trenthamfolk (@)
          8th October 2011, 19:38

          Oh, @Keith, any chance of an article about ‘Senna’ the movie, released here in Blighty on Monday!

          1. He did a series of articles back when it was being promoted.

            Check the links at the bottom of the article for more.

    14. I would love to see a ding-dong battle between Vettel and Hamilton and Button; and highly possibly on qualifying form.

      By all accounts tyre degradation has been pretty high around here this year, perhaps see lots of people sliding off at the end of stints. Could be a race of high attrition and could see some unexpected points.

    15. I really dont want Vettel to win this race, the title is invietible but if he clinches it without winning he wont do the finger.

      1. @Nixon He might, he will still be number 1 ;)

    16. Would love to see someone else win it besides Vettel but still take the title – but nevertheless if he does win it’ll be to his credit. He’s been slower than Jenson through all FPs and then to get pole by 9 thousandths – a credit to him. I fear though the RBs will be extremely quick on heavy fuel load and Vettel will pull away. If the two McLaren’s don’t clash too much they may have enough pace to fight it out with Vettel towards the end of the race. As much I like to see a Ferrari get a great start but I fear if they get ahead of the McLarens then the race will be on Vettel’s plate.

    17. The think the winner will be among Button or Vettel given they both survive the first corner.But with Kobayashi on 7th place starting on prime,Schumacher having two sets of option,Roseberg & Perez also have options available I think other then the top 3 the rest 7 positions will be a lottery today.Can’t wait for the race to start.

    18. I need a live stream for the race. Can anyone help me out with a link?

      1. Try this one… the official F1 site.

        1. Thanks, but I meant video. Video that will work in Australia. Channel 10 usually have a replay late if you don’t have a HD TV to watch it on ONE, but not this time, and the friends I would usually call on to watch the race are all out this time.

          1. You can stream it on the One HD website in Australia! They do it for people without HD or can’t watch it on TV.

            1. Great! Last time I looked for that I couldn’t find it.

    19. i dont know why, but i still have this feeling Button might fight for the championship

      Vettel retires and button wins, extending it to next race :)

      hope it doesn’t though… want Vettel to win it here, wanted him to win it in Singapore!

    20. From a strategy point of view it’s always nice to see a big name driver miss the first hurdle, so i’m hoping he will deliver a great race for us and his team.

      My eyes are going to be torn at the start between Button and Vettel, massa and Hamilton, can’t wait!

    21. @KeithCollantine it’s surprising how this preview has proved very precise – the only “mistake” is that Vettel couldn’t make his tyres last long enough on the first stint – had the Safety Car not driven out, Massa and Alonso, who had done more laps before pitting, would’ve had a great advantage.

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